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Bias: An overview and how to overcome it


Bias, like beauty, is often in the eye of the beholder. Facts are your firewall against bias.

Tom Brokaw

A bias is an inclination or prejudice toward or against something or someone. It is mostly learned and is highly dependent on variables like a person’s sex, socioeconomic status, race, ethnicity, educational background, etc.

Bias is often described as a stereotype about people, based on a particular group and/ or a physical characteristic they possess, such as their gender, ethnicity, or sexual orientation. People may or may not be aware that they hold these biases. At the individual level, bias can impact someone’s personal, professional, and social relations.

Two types of bias have been identified:

Implicit bias –

Its characteristics are as follows:

  • Implicit bias develops in life beginning at a very early age through exposure to direct and indirect messages.
  • In addition to early life experiences, the media and news programming are often considered to be their cause.
  • Implicit bias refers to the attitudes or stereotypes that affect our understanding, actions, and decisions unconsciously.
  • It is activated involuntarily and without an individual’s awareness or intentional control.
  • It resides deep in the subconscious. That’s why it is not accessible through introspection.
  • It is pervasive. Everyone possesses it, even people with avowed commitments to impartiality such as judges.

Explicit bias -

Its characteristics are as follows:

  • Explicit bias is the traditional conceptualization of a bias.
  • Explicit bias refers to the attitudes and beliefs that we have about a person or group on a conscious level.
  • People are very clear about their feelings and attitudes and the related behaviors are conducted with intent.
  • Expressions of explicit bias (discrimination, hate speech, etc.) occur as the result of deliberate thought. Thus, they can be consciously regulated.
  • In its extreme, explicit bias is characterized by overt negative behavior that can be expressed through physical and verbal harassment or more subtle means such as exclusion.
  • People are motivated to control their biases if there are social norms in place, which dictate that they are not socially acceptable.
  • Research shows that emphasizing a common group identity can help reduce tensions that may arise between different groups.

Are we hard-wired for bias? -

Researchers have found that the tendency to be prejudiced is a form of common sense, hard-wired into the human brain through an evolution as an adaptive response to protect our prehistoric ancestors from danger.

It has been found that the brain has a unique ability to differentiate between those who are “like-us” from those who are “not-like-us”. If the encoded message is that the members of this group are “not-like-us”, the ventromedial prefrontal cortex is activated. If the message is that the members are “like-us”, the dorsomedial prefrontal cortex is activated.

If the person is coded as “not-like-us”, implicit bias results in better treatment with those coded as “like-us”. Besides, the mirror neurons are not activated the greater the bias is. The mirror neurons enable us to have experiential insight into others or have empathy. Therefore, we have less interest and empathy for those “not-like-us”

Sometimes, people assume that since biases have an evolutionary basis, they can't be changed. That's simply not the case. What we think and feel and how we behave is typically the result of complex interactions between biological tendencies and learning experiences. Evolution may have prepared our minds to be biased but our environment influences the specific targets of those biases and how we act on them.

Therefore, a practical implication is that we may need to create different interventions to reduce inappropriate biases against different groups of people.

How to overcome bias –

Some useful strategies have been mentioned below that can help us in overcoming biases:

Increase self-awareness –

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Pay attention to how you feel, when you encounter differences. If a judgment arises, ask yourself if it’s one of my biases. Doing so is likely to change your reactions, responses, and judgments to different situations and individuals.

You can look at your behaviors too, for a better understanding of what’s serving you and what isn’t.

Ask yourself: What were you thinking before experiencing anger, resentment, or frustration? Was it negativity bias in action? And how can you replace those thoughts with more positive ones?

Identify the situations and people –

Identify the situations where biases may be impacting your behavior. There are people, whom you know, often rub you the wrong way or annoy you. Identify what makes you respond this way to them.

Ask yourself: Do I have a bias toward them and if so, what is that bias? Do they make me uncomfortable?

Being aware of your feelings of discomfort about people and situations is an excellent peek into unconscious biases.

Understand the nature of bias –

The development of biases is a normal aspect of human cognition. Understanding this important concept can help individuals approach their own biases more maturely and openly. When you are making judgments and decisions about the world around you, you like to think that you are objective, logical, and capable of processing all the information that is available to you. But, unfortunately, it’s not so. Such notions trip us up, leading to poor decisions and bad judgments.

Find out good about others –

The person or the thing, against which you have biases, must have some good quality. Try to find that out. It may help reduce the negativity of the bias. Besides, it will help you understand them better.

Widen the perspective -

Our thinking will always be limited to our own opinions and experiences, which are greatly influenced by our biases. We can widen our perspective by listening to others, exchanging opinions with them, and engaging them in conversations. When we understand other’s perspectives fully, we won’t hesitate to revise ours. You should seek out people with different backgrounds than yours to interact with.

We can also broaden our thinking by reading aggressively and studying great minds. However, the key is not to reinforce your opinions but to refine them through taking in the other view.

Do cognitive restructuring –

When you catch yourself taking a negative view of people and situations, it often helps to practice cognitive restructuring by reframing the experience or event. Doing so, you will get a more objective view of people or situations. This will help you work toward overcoming your bias.

Savor the positive moments –

When you are free, build up positive mental images and feelings for persons or things you have biases against. Engage fully in the good sensations, happy thoughts, and pleasant emotions that you feel about them. It will help you address what predisposes you to biases against them.

Practice mindfulness –

Through guided meditations, reflection, and other mindfulness interventions, you can begin to observe your feelings and thoughts more objectively. Its regular practice will help understand the nature of biases.

Explore spirituality –

Spirituality assists us in understanding other cultures, offering insights into their values, traditions, and ways of being. Its practice also changes how you view life, how you experience life, how you respond to life events, how you respond to people, and how you see yourself and the rest of all.

Eventually, a spiritual practice refines you. If everyone rises to higher consciousness, then the world would be a better place for all. That’s why spirituality can play a pivotal role in overcoming our biases.

Discuss with others –

Sharing your biases can help others feel more secure about exploring their own biases. You should have these conversations with individuals, who can be open to alternative perspectives and viewpoints.

The last word –

It is a fact that biases are all-pervasive. They have been established in our personality so deeply that they affect our life in myriads of ways, causing a lot of unnecessary discord in inter-personal, inter-caste, inter-cultural, inter-religious, and international relations.

It’s noteworthy that we can overcome our biases, though they may offer stiff resistance at times since we are hard-wired for most of them. It’s mainly so with implicit biases. Nevertheless, if we can understand their true nature, we can overcome them with persistent efforts.

Reference -

Arizona State University. "Prejudice Is Hard-wired Into The Human Brain, Says ASU Study." Science Daily. Science Daily, 25 May 2005.


Dr Pran Rangan (author) from Kanpur (UP), India on June 15, 2020:

Thanks Denise for your comments.

Actually, when I thought of writing the article, I had in mind the racial violence taking place in America.

Denise McGill from Fresno CA on June 15, 2020:

There is a lot to think about here. I know it is true that I naturally have implicit biases without thinking about them but I do hope to overcome any outward/explicit bias with intelligence and love. Thanks for the info.



Dr Pran Rangan (author) from Kanpur (UP), India on June 14, 2020:

Thanks Nikhil Sharma for liking the article. Your comments are very encouraging.

Nikhil Sharma from India on June 14, 2020:

This is an immensely detailed hub on the bias. Not only you've explained in detail how bias has been created in our conscious and subconscious mind, but you've also explained its relation to certain parts of the brain.

Extremely well-researched and comprehensive article I've ever read on the bias. Thanks for explaining ways on how we can overcome the bias in our lives, Mr. Pran Rangan.

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